I don't remember much about Vietnam. Of course, if you're below a certain age, you may be thinking I visited the country. But if you're a product of the 60's or earlier, you know I mean the Vietnam War. It started in 1954, the year my brother was born. It officially ended 21 years later, but the U. S. pulled out their troops after 19 years, the year I turned 10. That was a long war.
I remember seeing news clips of Walter Cronkite updating the world on the situation. I always loved that man's voice and his eyes. He had kind eyes, and he was a great journalist.
We lost at least 58,202 Americans over there, 11,465 being younger than 20, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, Inc. I've always had a soft spot for Vietnam vets. I didn't realize back then how young those soldiers were. It's all relative. When you're 10 and in the fifth grade, your biggest concern is saying goodbye to your friends in elementary school and getting ready for the big, scary leap into junior high the next year.
But many of those vets were barely out of high school, and so many never came back to start the lives they had once planned for. Such a sacrifice.
I can kind of understand the counter-culture; I'm no historical analyst, but maybe it was all a backlash of a war that many didn't understand. Like most wars, I suppose, Vietnam very much divided Americans in their homeland. But whether you were pro or con, those soldiers deserved to be supported in their roles. So the drug culture and "make love, not war" mentality could have been partly a reaction to the disturbing and unsettling events of the time. Unfortunately, any movement can morph into something worse than intended. And the drugs weren't something that addicts could walk away from. For many, the lifestyle they had embraced later embraced them, and there was no escaping. Like the decades before, change came in many realms - some good, some not so good. Always learning, always reaching, always wanting more; and much was done in the name of "progress."
It was the week before July 4th. My husband, Flash, and I had delivered our quite excited 16-year-old son, Cowboy, to camp for a few days, then headed out to a lake for a few Independence Days of our own. Wonderful friends had given us full run of their lake house for the week. It was a gift that left us speechless. Flash and I get four days and four nights of parental off-duty time every year. I'm not sure how we ever went all those years without camp.
The next day, we set out to find a new town. We love getting away from home and finding places we haven't yet surveyed. Sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name It's somewhat quicker to navigate country roads these days thanks to Google Maps, as long as you’re in a place with reception. Thankfully, we had coverage and weren’t lost to the East Texas Piney Woods. We made a short detour, my favorite part of road trips, to drive through Livingston State Park. We'd been kicking around the idea of taking a family camping trip, so a little outdoor window shopping was in order. The pool was out of commission; no need to continue our tour. There must always be clean water to jump into during a Texas summer.
We'd been back on the road for a few minutes when we saw a little antique shop with all kinds of intriguing things out front and a “Going Out of Business” sign posted. I see a lot of the Lone Star State at 65+ mph, but Flash has become the King of U-Turns to accommodate my moments of "Ohhhhh, what was that?"
The owner of the shop came out to greet us when we pulled up, hollering a hello as if we were old friends.
“I see you’re closing up shop. Is that a sad thing?”
"Maybe for some people, but not for me; I can’t wait!" His smile had retirement written all over it.
We perused the place, and I found a couple of rotary dial phones like I’d been wanting to display. But what caught my eye the most were some issues of Life Magazine from 1941 and 1943.
I noticed the store owner's camo pants and green shirt. “Were you in the service?”
“Thank you for serving. Where were you stationed?
I knew I had to learn more. We introduced ourselves, shook his hand, and I saw gratitude in his eyes. A few minutes later, Arthur told me he had lost a leg, from the knee down, at 19 years old. Nineteen years old. I was having the time of my life in college at that age. There was no self-pity in his voice, and I was impressed with his mobility. I never would have known. A husband with three kids and 10 grandkids, he was a peaceful man who was looking forward to his future.
As we headed down the road and waved goodbye, I kept thinking of Arthur. I knew society could learn a lot from a man like that. A man who lost something I take for granted, who saw atrocities I’ll never see, yet wore joy on his face.
Meeting Arthur was the highlight of our outing that day, surpassing old phones that reminded me of my sheltered childhood and magazines from the World War II era. We’d found a living treasure in the midst of man-made relics. And our hearts were full.
I wondered what Arthur would do with all his free time. Would he travel? Start a new hobby? Soak up every moment with his grandchildren? Whatever he has planned, we're grateful he's alive to do it. And as he starts his next life season, he carries a rich history to share with others. As do we all.